Made for a song with a non-pro cast and DV camera gear out of his backpack, Tariq Tapa's debut feature shows the young Kashmiri-American as a filmmaker of enormous promise and precocious maturity. You won't see terrorists, rebels, or Bollywood numbers in Zero Bridge, only close attention to telling quotidian detail as we discover the beleaguered state of Kashmir through the eyes of Dilawar (played by Tapa's cousin, Mohamad Imran), a teenage pickpocket whose virile beak of a nose belies his tender years. Dilawar is a dreamer and a would-be runaway, but like his home state—haplessly carved up between India and Pakistan—he's an orphan, stranded between the strict uncle (Ali Mohammed Dar) who exploits his labor and the rigors of an underground economy governed by parasitic mutual betrayal. He grows close to Bani (the stunning Taniya Khan), the more educated but equally trapped young woman whose passport he stole. Seen with a tripod camera, Bani is all serene resignation, while Dilawar, tracked by a jittery handheld, is a termite trying to burrow his way out of one hole after another. Tapa's poetic neorealism is less a stylistic intrusion than a keeping of faith, through the film's deliberately uneven pacing, with a life devoid of rhythms to count on.
Tapas Neorealism in Kashmir.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., April 22–Thurs., April 28. Not rated. 99 minutes.